Friday, August 04, 2017

What to do with Jude

9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9). 
14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14-15).

Over the years I've discussed Jude's use of apocryphal sources. I find both conventionally conservative and liberal explanations implausible. I'll take another stab at the issue. Before offering my proposal, I'll put the issue in a larger context.

1. The prima facie problem is that, on the one hand, it's unquestionable that Jude thought Adam, Enoch, Moses, the Devil, and the Archangel Michael were real people. On the other hand, his sources are apocryphal, in both the technical and informal sense of the word. To our knowledge, they were never part of the Jewish canon. And they are pious fiction. Seems like special pleading to suggest these two excerpts just happen to be historical, while everything else is fictional.  

2. One explanation was the Jude was gullible in his use of source material. If so, that would have far-reaching theological ramifications. It would mean God didn't protect Bible writers from error. If he didn't protect Jude from error, there's no presumption that he protected other Bible writers from error. Where does that leave, let us say, the historicity of the Gospels? 

3. Another related explanation is that it was a mistake to canonize Jude. If so, that, too, would have far-reaching theological ramifications. If that was a mistake, it's not confined to just one denomination or theological tradition. All the major theological traditions (e.g. Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox) include Jude in the canon. That leaves no one off the hook. That means God allowed Christians en masse to be in error on this issue. And if Jude's canonical status is spurious, what about other canonical books? (In fairness, some books of the Bible have more corroborative evidence than others.)

4. Let's consider some genres. Take the historical genre. What makes an account historical? 

i) Based on real events

ii) Faithful representation of real events

In a sense, any account of the past will deviate from the past because an account of the past is not the event in itself, but a representation of the event. In that respect, no historical account exactly corresponds to what happened. Rather, it approximates what happened.

Take a documentary with dramatic recreations. The actors aren't the original agents. They may not even look or sound like the original agents, even if they are quoting them verbatim. We allow a director to take a degree of artistic license. 

Or consider a movie adaptation of the Exodus or the life of Christ. Suppose the director uses CGI to show the miracles. Obviously, the original event didn't happen just like the director visualizes the original event, since he wasn't there. But it's historical in the sense that he's attempting to be faithful to that kind of event. 

5. Some novels, short stories, movies, dramas, and characters attain culturally iconic status. They may become part of the national or cultural mythos. People quote them or refer to them and the audience is expected to recognize the allusion–even if they haven't seen it or read it. Depending on the culture and the social class, examples include Star Wars, Star Trek, Moby-Dick, Dracula, The Matrix, The Terminator, The Wizard of Oz, Carrie, Casablanca, Sophie's Choice, Night of the Living Dead, Superman, the Arthurian legend, Brave New World, Alice in Wonderland, and the plays of Shakespeare. 

6. Between history and fiction is the intermediate category of historical fiction. These are based on a true story, but they include imaginary elements. Examples are legion. Consider movies like Tombstone, Patton, Beckett, Miracle, Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge, Ike: Countdown to D-Day, The Scarlet and the Black, A Man for All Seasons, or plays like Richard III, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra. 

A variation on this is John le Carré's spy novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That's a political allegory of the Cambridge spy ring. 

In historical fiction, it's necessary to distinguish between the historical Doc Holliday, Patton, Herb Brooks, Julius Caesar et al. and the literary or cinematic Doc Holliday, Patton, Herb Brooks, Julius Caesar. Although these refer to historical figures, the literary or cinematic adaptation may take considerable artistic liberties. Write lines for a character which he never spoke in real life. Put him in imaginary situations. 

It's possible as well as commonplace to refer to actual figures through a fictional medium. And there are situations where the target audience is expected to know the difference. At least the audience is supposed to know the difference. Perhaps that's what's going on in the case of Jude 9, 14-15. 


  1. Another option is that the events could also be true, despite also being in apocrypha. Then there would be no actual problem, except that we don't know there is no actual problem.

  2. The last academic book on Jude I recall reading was Bauckham's. My understanding was that Jude availed himself of apocryphal literature that was available or popular in the region he was addressing and building a case that even this literature could be used toward a positive, corrective end if used from within an orthodox perspective--conversely, Jude's use of apocryphal literature did not necessarily have to validate it as canonical in a way similar to how Paul's reappropriation of odes to Zeus didn't rubber stamp the veneration of Zeus.

    What you've proposed about Jude's use of apocryphal literature could have been an element of the rhetorical aim of the epistle. That Jude ties together so much apocryphal literary reference on the one hand and condemns false teachers on the other doesn't work from a propositional so much as an associative argument--false teachers in that region may have embraced and endorsed an array of apocryphal works that could not be squared with the canonical accounts but Jude could demonstrate that, properly handled within a setting of apostolic instruction, even this literature could be shown to condemn the activities of false teachers who were forming a self-serving guild. Or at least that's a way of approaching Jude I've arrived at over the last decade.

  3. I think that God wanted to use the book of Jude to convey truth to us. Those two passages are from apocryphal books, but I think the subject matter of the verses, and their subsequent validation as being theopnustos Scripture, remove all doubts as to their veracity.

    A separate area of study would be to investigate how those phrases and their information content were preserved and transmitted through history.

    It may be that the authors of the apocryphal books had seized upon a truthful bit of history and then built fanciful novels around those isolated phrases.

    The apostle Jude was then selecting those individual passages for inclusion into his letter to preserve the Truth, not obfuscate it.

    1. The Bible can quote statements that were originally uninspired, but true. And, of course, there's the additional, inspired function which the quotations have when a Bible writer recontextualizes them.

      Minor point, Jude was not an apostle, but a stepbrother of Jesus.

  4. A quibble point, but one definition out there is that Scriptural inspiration indicates apostolic authorship (or direct apostolic oversight). That was my intent on calling him an apostle.